With opening titles in French, closing credits in Russian, and post-production commentary in Japanese, cataloging Mikhail Baryshnikov's audiovisual collection presents an exciting linguistic challenge. Decoding the names—and, sometimes, nuanced conversations—associated with a production is a particularly engaging puzzle. Who, for example, is that enthusiastic commentator in a Tokyo television broadcast? Could his identity and critique of a performance be useful information for our researchers? What about the cryptic videotape label, handwritten in Cyrillic script? Is this a clue to an uncredited cast?
As it happens, you and I don't need to suffer in suspense. That's because many of the answers we seek are provided by multilingual experts: the cataloging staff of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
That handwriting on the VHS tape? Special Formats Cataloger Julia Slivko Mann, a native speaker of Russian, patiently deciphered the faded script. Evteeva, Semeniaka, Sukhova: familiar last names of Kirov ballerinas. Her cultural knowledge, combined with her adept translation, made further identification possible. Liudmilla Semeniaka and Elena Evteeva were students of Alexander Pushkin—and classmates of Baryshnikov's—at the Leningrad Choreographic Institute. (I should mention that Julia and her colleague, Lena Deresh, are Cyrillic credit translation aces!)
Dance Oral History Cataloger Diana Chapman's expertise in Japanese language and culture has been immeasurably helpful. As we sat together to view that Tokyo Kirov Ballet performance, she often paused the recording to share credit information and explain particular details of written language. Then, as she began to translate the dialogue between that excited commentator and the program's host, everything came to a halt. Mr. Ishida—this was his name—was in the midst of an eloquent statement about the cultural environment in Leningrad and its impact on the quality of the Kirov Ballet. Once Diana was able to translate his first name, his enthusiasm was put into greater context. Taneo Ishida, who spoke so admiringly of Baryshnikov, was a dancer, choreographer, and teacher, as well as a former Director of the Tokyo City Ballet. With Diana's help, we've identified an important figure in Japanese dance expressing his admiration of Mr. Baryshnikov's technique.
What we know about Mikhail Baryshnikov will be greatly enhanced by public access to his audiovisual collection. Translating the details of these works not only provides insight into the details of his astonishing career—it reminds us of his profound impact on individual dancers. I'm delighted to share what we've discovered about the collection and highlight the excellent resources at LPA.